House investigates cultural trips to Cuba sponsored by Smithsonian Institution

The Committee on House Administration has initiated an investigation into trips to Cuba sponsored by the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian Institution as part of a cultural exchange program.

On Friday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, praised House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) for looking into the matter, which she publicly drew attention to earlier this month.

“I commend the Chairman for his leadership and for promptly addressing my serious concerns shared by so many about Smithsonian Journeys’ poor judgment in facilitating trips to the repressed island of Cuba,” she wrote in a statement. “It is my hope that through this investigation, Congress ensures that no taxpayer dollars have been used to promote tourism travel to Cuba.”

Smithsonian Journeys, part of the Smithsonian Enterprises Division, is offering travel packages to Cuba throughout 2012 starting at $5,450, according to its website. The trip includes visits to Old Havana, Matanzas and Santa Clara.

The trips are offered through the organization’s new “People-to-People Cultural Exchange Program,” the site states. “Thanks to a special license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Smithsonian Institution invites you to participate in this meaningful Cultural Exchange program with the Cuban people who are involved in the arts, cultural traditions, agriculture, natural history and education.”

According to Ros-Lehtinen, however, the Smithsonian is sponsoring trips to “a nation designated by the State Department as a state-sponsor of terrorism.”

“The Smithsonian’s 10-day trips to Cuba will amount to little more than a tropical vacation,” she wrote in a separate Jan. 3 statement. “Americans participating in these trips will not see the brutal reality of the [Fidel] Castro dictatorship.”

“It is deeply disappointing that the Smithsonian Institute, primarily funded by American taxpayers, is facilitating access to U.S. dollars, which enables the Castro regime to make a hefty profit,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “The trips not only illustrate a blatant disregard for human rights conditions on the island by an entity that receives U.S. government funding, but provide the deplorable Havana tyranny a sense of legitimacy.”

Lungren has exercised the oversight of the House Administration Committee by requesting information from the Smithsonian Institution about the trips to Cuba and why they were scheduled, according to Ros-Lehtinen’s statement.

“It is irresponsible and reckless for this entity affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution to act as a travel agent for a brutal dictatorship which is a declared enemy of the United States,” Ros-Lehtinen concluded. “The trips unequivocally send the wrong message to the people of Cuba, will further enrich their oppressors, and undermine efforts to bring about a transition to democracy in Cuba.”

The Smithsonian Institution did not immediately return request for comment.

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